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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Working Sabbatical by Guest Blogger Eve

Thanks to all who submitted comments on Guest Blogger Eve previous post for Take A Leap. We can't be everywhere and it is great to hear other perspectives on International travel.

Have you thought about a Sabbatical. Read what Eve says about it.

Working Sabbatical… Oxymoronic or a Wise Move?
About a month ago I received word from my sister, who lives in Australia, telling me to expect an email from a friend who had “a couple of questions” about living and working in Spain.
I headed for sunny Spain in my early 20s, like most expats, to learn Spanish. My intended year’s stay has since turned into a bit of a life project; between working in a job I like in the publishing industry and having married my Spanish husband five years ago, you could say, like the Spanish do, that “I wouldn’t leave if you threw hot water over me” (a bit dramatic, I know, but the Spanish are like that!).  Still, when I received the anticipated email (which far from containing ‘a couple of questions’ inquired about everything from the average cost of living to employment, rent and even the monthly cost of organic produce, which I had to smile at, as organics are just starting to kick off here and I at least have to drive a good half hour to get my hand’s on a head of asymmetrical lettuce), I didn’t quite know how honest I should be.

Far and Away
In Australia, it would be putting it mildly to say that things are going well, at least compared to Europe. UK unemployment rates are currently hovering at around 2.52 million… in Spain, that number has reached 5 million, leading macro-economics experts like Charles Robertson (of Renaissance Capital) to predict that Spain will be exiting the European Union as early as 2014; for although severe austerity measures are set to achieve some measure of economic growth, employment will have risen to close to 30 per cent by 2014, meaning that the recession will continue to take its toll on workers for many years to come.

The Spanish Recession: In Search of Light
The depressing news on the television and the radio really hits home when one begins to see how it affects family or close friends; my husband’s best friend and his wife bought a home the same year we did; last year, he lost his job and she makes less than €1.000 monthly – the minimum wage in Spain is approximately €650 a month. Yet mortgages are exceedingly high! They were paying almost €1.000 for their home. The loss of one income means that now, they are one of many families whose home has been repossessed by the bank (they are now renting).
Economists say that one of the main causes of the recession is the property boom in Spain during the decade before the crisis; banks handed out mortgages freely, people borrowed more than they could pay back and as a result, it is almost a daily event on the news to see a family being evicted from their homes. One of the saddest stories I heard was of an elderly couple in Mallorca who took their lives in February, 2013, to avoid being evicted.

Stretching your Peseta, Dollar or Pound
Recently, on my way to work I was listening to my favourite radio presenter, who was saying that around 10 years ago, it was real easy to live well in Spain, with very little money. I have to say I agree; when I first arrived, there was no such thing as the EU; the local currency was a ‘peseta’ and boy, did that peseta stretch! At the risk of sounding like an old complainer, a cup of coffee cost 100 pesetas (about 16 euro cents) and just a year after the euro came into existence, the price jumped to €1; it was as if shopkeepers had privily plotted to round off all zeros and just charge five times as much on everything; after all, most of us were simply too slow to multiply everything by 166.3860 (which is how euros were converted into pesetas).
Indeed, when buying items and earning money in a new currency, many mistakes can be made because the idea of value is one that takes time to assimilate. I would definitely suggest that anyone who was travelling with foreign currency, not fall into the trap of exchanging their money at the first bank or exchange office they find (they should definitely avoid airport exchange counters). Also, they should avoid using a credit card to pay for purchases, as there are lots of hidden charges involved and if they are planning on living abroad for various months, these ‘small’ charges usually end up amounting to a significant amount. It’s probably a good idea to bring a bit of cash along, and to spend at least a couple of weeks studying the cost of living, making price comparisons with shops back home etc. The next step is to compare foreign exchange rates offered by the most popular companies, checking out additional factors like relative expediency, delivery options and maximum and minimum order amounts.

Words of Advice
You might be wondering what I ended up advising my sister’s friend. Actually, I just provided her with the facts: the unemployment rate, the accusations of corruption tainting both of Spain’s main political parties, the average monthly wage, cost of renting a small apartment (€500), monthly supermarket costs for one (€300), etc. I also advised her that although her best bet in as far as learning Spanish was concerned, was to head for a big city like Madrid or Barcelona (where she could meet Spanish friends and learn the language the best way there is – via full immersion ), given the tough economic times, coastal areas like the Costa del Sol (Marbella), Benidorm or Palma de Mallorca would probably offer an English speaker better chances of employment. The only problem with coastal areas is that you often end up doing business and socialising in English and you can end up learning hardly any Spanish, since everyone from waiters to shopkeepers will usually be glad to help you out in English.
I also told her that if she was keen on teaching English, she would probably find a job quite quickly; there has been a consistent demand over the past few years for native English teachers, since Spanish people are keen to improve their CVs by showing they can speak ‘the world’s most international language’… some academies don’t require a teacher to have a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) diploma, though it is always a good idea to get one (you can complete a TEFL course in just a few weeks).

It may not be the best time in Spain’s history for my sister’s friend to consider a working trip to Spain, but I truly believe that adversity only makes people stronger; those who are guided by a strong work ethic and an ability to take rejection well, can thrive anywhere. And in the very worst case scenario, if she doesn’t ‘make it big’ here, she can at least take a second language home. All that’s left to say is "Buena suerte!".


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